Free early education and childcare for three and four year olds

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All 3 and 4-year-olds are currently entitled to 15 hours a week of Free Childcare and Early Education (Universal Entitlement).

In addition, some working parents are also eligible to receive 30 hours of free childcare per week (Extended Entitlement).

You do not need to apply for the universal 15 hours of free childcare for your child. Your childcare provider will claim the funding on your behalf directly from Waltham Forest Council.

All 3 and 4-year-olds are entitled to 570 hours of free early education per year. It’s usually taken as 15 hours a week over 38 weeks of the year (split into three terms).

However, if your child‘s provider is open all year round, such as a day nursery, the free hours will be spread equally over those weeks. For example, if your child attends a provider that is open for 51 weeks a year, they will receive 11 hours a week.

National limits
National limits are set by the government about how the free sessions can be offered meaning that:

  • no session can be longer than 10 hours
  • a maximum of 15 hours per week can be taken over a minimum of two days

You should discuss with each provider that you contact how they will spread the free hours over the week. Some may offer specific packages, whereas others may be flexible to your requirements. Please note, if you require extra hours of childcare, you will be charged for this.

In addition to the Universal free childcare hours, some working parents can apply for additional 15 hours of free childcare per week (term time). This is known as 30 hours Free Childcare Entitlement for 3 and 4-year-olds or the Extended Entitlement. Eligibility criteria applies for the 30 hours Free Childcare scheme.

Eligibility Criteria for 30 hours Free Childcare

The extended entitlement is available to families where:

  • both parents are working (or the sole parent is working in a lone parent family)
  • each parent earns on average a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum wage  or 16 hours at National Living Wage.
  • neither parent has an income of more than £100,000 per year
  • both parents are employed but one or both parents is temporarily away from the workplace on parental, maternity or paternity leave, adoption leave or get statutory sick pay
  • one parent is employed, and one parent has substantial caring responsibilities based on specific benefits received for caring, or is disabled/ incapacitated based on receipt of specific benefits

Children in foster care are also able to receive 30 hours free childcare, if the following criteria are met:

  • That accessing the extended hours is consistent with the child’s care plan, placing the child at the centre of the process and decision making, and
  • That, in single parent foster families, the foster parent engages in paid work outside their role as a foster parent.
  • And in two parent foster families, both partners engage in paid work outside their role as a foster parent. If one partner is not a foster parent, then they must be in qualifying paid work and earn a minimum of the equivalent to 16 hours at national minimum/national living wage.

How can I check my eligibility and apply for my 30 hours Free Childcare Code?

In order to apply for the 30 hours Free Childcare, you need to set up a government Gateway Account. To start the process,  apply here for the 30 hours Free Childcare or visit childcarechoices.gov.uk for range of government childcare offers, including 30 hours free childcare.

If you disagree with your eligibility results or have any technical issues when applying for the 30 hours code, please call the Childcare Service helpline on 0300 123 4097.

If you are eligible, you will receive an 11 digit code to  give to your participating childcare provider. Your childcare provider will check the code and confirm your eligibility.

IMPORTANT: You must sign into your account to re-confirm your eligibility every three months.

If you foster your child, you cannot apply online. Ask your social worker to initiate the 30 hours Free Childcare Application process.

If I am eligible when can my child start receiving the Extended Entitlement?

Eligible children can receive the extra free hours from the start of the term following their third birthday:

Child born between

Can receive the free hours from

1 September to 31 December 

January (Spring term)

1 January to 31 March

April (Summer term)

1 April to 31 August

September (Autumn term)

Please note that you can only claim the extended hours the term following your child's third birthday or the term following the receipt of your eligibility code from HMRC (whichever is the later). Therefore, you MUST apply the term before your child meets the eligible age to ensure your child can access a place at the start of the term after your child turns three. If not, you will need to wait until the following term to access the 30hr place.

Provided that parents/carers continue to meet the eligibility criteria children can receive the additional hours until they either start in a reception class at a local authority maintained school or reach compulsory school age (which is the school term after their fifth birthday).

What happens if I no longer meet the eligibility criteria?

If your family no longer meets the criteria you will stop being eligible to claim the extra hours. However, there will be a grace period until the start of the next funded period to give you the opportunity to regain employment. If your circumstances change during the grace period you can reapply again and continue to receive the extra hours

You will still be able to receive the Universal 15 hours of Free Childcare for all 3 and 4-year-olds even if you are no longer eligible for the Extended Entitlement.

When can my child use the Extended Entitlement hours?

It is proposed that the free hours will be delivered as flexibly as possible and there is no requirement for them to be taken on a particular day of the week. However, you won’t be able to:

  • have any time before 6am or after 8pm
  • claim more than 10 hours a day
  • claim more than 30 hours a week
  • claim more than 1140 hours per year
  • use the funding at more than two childcare providers in one day

This can be taken as 30 hours per week during term time (38 weeks per year), or it can be stretched over the whole year. This means that fewer hours per week can be taken over more weeks of the year.

For example, you could take your 1140 hours per year in a variety of different ways:

  • over term time e.g. 30hrs per week over 38 weeks;
  • stretched out - 22 hrs per week over 51 weeks (with all year-round childcare provider)
  • for fewer than the full 30hrs e.g. 24 hours per week over 38 weeks

Childcare providers do not have to offer a particular pattern of provision to parents/carers, and some may work in partnership with another childcare provider to offer the 30 hours. For example, a childminder may pick up children after a morning nursery session.

There are a variety of childcare providers in Waltham Forest who deliver the childcare in a number of different ways, so if parents/carers are unable to access their place at their preferred provider they should be able to find an alternative quality childcare place which meets their needs.

What do I have to pay for?

If you wish to use more than 30 hours free childcare per week (term time), you will need to pay for the extra hours. You will need to arrange this with your childcare provider. They must ask you to sign a Waltham Forest parental declaration form and should also provide you with a contract, so it is clear what hours you are paying for and which are included in the free 30 hour free childcare entitlement.

Childcare providers may ask parents/carers for a deposit if they are paying for some of the childcare themselves. If you are only accessing then 30 hours free childcare funding, you may be asked to pay a deposit, but this should be returned to you within the first term of your child attending. Apart from that, there should be nothing else for you to have to pay for.

Childcare providers can charge for extra costs, such as food, and trips but they can’t make this a condition of accessing the free childcare funding for parents/carers who are only taking up their free entitlement hours.  For example, parents/carers must be given the option of bringing a packed lunch for their child, instead of having to pay for meals. Childcare providers should make information about their costs clear and transparent to parents/carers.

Childcare providers should also provide invoices to parents/carers, clearly detailing which hours are free funded hours, and which are chargeable. This invoice should also include any extras the parents have chosen to purchase. 

A variety of childcare providers can offer Universal and Extended Free Early Education and Childcare for 3 and 4-year-olds including:

  • day nurseries
  • pre-schools or playgroups
  • childminders
  • nursery schools

Find out more about various types of childcare providers and the difference between them.

For a list of childcare providers in your area offering funded spaces, please see our Waltham Forest Childcare Directory or contact Early Years & Childcare Team on 0208 496 3566 or email childcare@walthamforest.gov.uk.

Once you have chosen your preferred childcare setting, contact them directly to arrange for your child to start. If you would like to take up any additional hours outside the Free Early Education Entitlement, the childcare provider will invoice you accordingly.

Please note that taking up a nursery place at a school does not guarantee a reception or Year 1 place at that school. There is a completely separate admissions procedure for reception and Year 1 classes in a school.

The Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) is additional funding given to early years providers to improve the education they provide for eligible three and four-year-olds.

Childcare providers, including day nurseries, pre-schools, childminders and schools, could receive up to £300 a year to support an eligible child’s learning.

Please note, this funding cannot be used to reduce childcare fees.

Your child may be entitled to EYPP funding if they are 3 or 4 years old and are attending a childcare provider and receiving Free Early Education and Childcare Entitlement.

Your child will be able to get EYPP if your family is in receipt of one of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Support under part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
  • The guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
  • Tax credits, and you have an income of under £16,190 before tax
  • Working Tax Credit run-on, which is paid for 4 weeks after you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
  • Universal Credit, and you have an annual net earned income equivalent up to and not exceeding £7,200 assessed on up to three of the parent’s most recent Universal Credit assessment periods.

Or if you are not receiving any benefits, your child will be able to get EYPP if they:

  • are looked after by a local authority in England or Wales (“in care”)
  • Have left care under a special guardianship order, child arrangements order or adoption order in England or Wales

How to apply for EYPP?

Please ask your childcare provider to apply. You will need to give them your National Insurance number. If you need help or have any questions, please contact the Childcare Team on 020 8496 3566 or email childcare@walthamforest.gov.uk.

How does EYPP help my child?

Your childcare provider will work closely with you to carefully consider the learning and development needs of your child. EYPP can be spent in various ways e.g. making a difference through improved staff training, extra resources or support for children.

When Ofsted inspect your childcare provider, they will evaluate whether the additional funding is being used effectively, to support your child in the best possible way.